Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Puff of Smoke

When I think of something that makes me feel good, it's usually the idea of sitting somewhere on a beach finding peace and quiet--away from the normal concerns of life. But a recent lesson reinforces the idea of something better--at least on a regular basis. It's the main reason I don't see myself ever retiring on a beach in the Caribbean.

A few weeks ago my HP Laser Jet printer broke. It kind of broke my heart. I've had that printer for more than 2 decades and it was "old reliable." I only had repairs maybe 3 or 4 times and at least twice the repairmen wanted to buy the machine saying, "they just don't make them like that anymore." A couple of years ago, I put over $100 into it, and I would have spent even more this time, but this past week my hopes for it went up in a literal puff of smoke. It was done. Kaput! Finished. I was not happy until I found out that a new faster one would only cost $249.00. Plus Staples kicked in a free case of paper! 

That incident reminded me of a pastor's sermon a few weeks ago. He said something to the effect of "don't let the familiar keep you from something good." I've thought about that a lot over these past few weeks. I wanted to keep my familiar printer, but a new one turned out even better. If it only lasts a few years I can buy quite a few of them before spending the $1200, I paid for my old one.

That concept becomes even more important when I consider how I spend my free time. Do I stick with familiar television shows, entertainment choices, or leisure activities? Or could  there be something better?

Today I read an interesting article in the July 1st issue of Time magazine. It was about how performing some type of service has been healing vets from post traumatic stress syndrome. The article went on to report that there is a wealth of evidence on the physical and psychological effects of service by the elderly. "Community service provides clear health and psychological benefits, including greater longevity, reduced depression, and a greater sense of purpose."

This past week I interviewed a Viet Nam vet in his late sixties who still travels into jungles in places like Cambodia and Honduras to help the poor. He has a zeal for life and adventure that's rarely found in those whose best days are spent sitting on a beach. Gary (from Rescue Task Force) told me a story about how an extremely poor couple might take out a loan to start a business. But they don't factor in the exorbitant interest charged by unscrupulous men. When the couple can't make the payments, these men give them a choice--"we'll cut off your arms or you can give us your daughter!"

Poor people often have only poor choices; no choice at all really. And, their daughters frequently end up in Southern California as sex or domestic slaves sold to the highest bidder. What if we exchanged some of our free time helping the poor instead of looking for the next thing to make us feel good? (I'm in no way saying we don't all need some down time.)

In his book Fast Living, Scott C. Todd, PhD, builds a case for how the church can end extreme poverty in our lifetime. He retells the story of the little boy on the beach who is picking up starfish and throwing them back in the sea. An onlooker stops him and asks "Do you really think you can make a difference? There are thousands of starfish on the beach as far as the eye can see." The little boy silently picks up a starfish and tosses it back in the water. "Made a difference to that one," he said.

Today, says Todd, this story takes on new dimensions. A child might look at all those starfish, grab their phone and tweet the need. Thousands of children might come and save them all. 

So what if Christians decide to respond to the need and take a fraction of their leisure time-- exchanging the familiar for something better, more satisfying, maybe even healing. Perhaps that's why the God of the Bible calls His people to service. Because it not only benefits the recipient, but also the person who serves them. 

Whatever we do to end poverty can also make a difference when it comes to ending modern-day slavery. My friend Aleece is currently in the Caribbean, but she's not sitting on any beach. As she helps meets the basic needs of children in orphanages, they become far less vulnerable to being trafficked. 

And, what about poverty in Southern California? Though it may not be so extreme, there are ways you can make a difference. We'd love to know what familiar thing in your life could go up in a puff of smoke and how that might lead you to something far better?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Orphan Challenge

Three children squealed with delight when their mother said, "come on, let's go to the park!" Even better, once there, she asked if they wanted ice cream; a rare treat. She told them to play while she went across the street to purchase the cones.
They rode the merry-go-round and swung on the swings—the 10-year-old girl pushing her younger brother and sister. Mom sure seemed to be taking her time. When they tired of playground equipment, the big sister suggested a game of hide-and-seek. Surely by the time she counted to 100, her mother would be back. She wasn't. Now the girl started getting worried. Something must be wrong.

By the time dusk settled over the park, she knew. Their mother wasn't coming back. 

Abandoned, neglected, and abused children are everywhere--even in America. With the breakdown of the family, orphans have become a tremendous challenge all over the globe. According to UNICEF estimates there were more than 132 million in 2005. In a recent publication, Transform World stated that if all the orphans "from war-torn Sudan to poverty-stricken India, from transitioning Ukraine to affluent nations in Europe and North America" were brought together, "they would comprise the 7th largest nation in the world--a veritable 'Orphan Nation.'"

It's a complex problem with complex solutions. A form of trafficking is actually taking place through the gospel of adoption. Rather than unwittingly contributing to the problem, Christians need to take the lead in raising awareness of the issues involved and finding ways to care for these children in the best possible family situation.
God knows each orphaned child by name. He knit each one together in his mother's womb. The Lord is also "a father for the fatherless . . . and makes a home for the lonely" (Ps. 68:5, 6). 

The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Every healthy individual wants a family. Each human being needs that type of support system. To give orphans the love we desire is not a suggestion; it's a command. These children are all around us. Are we willing to be a father (or mother) in Jesus name making sure that children receive the best possible care and support system?

When a child is secure in a family they are far less vulnerable to the tricks of traffickers. To deal with the travesty of modern-day slavery in America, we must love and care for orphans. The question is how can we best do that?

The 10-year old girl at the beginning of this story was placed in a family environment with a mom, dad, and other kids.But it only lasted until she was 18, and then she was on her own. But she still needed a family's support. That's why a church in Riverside becomes a family to foster kids aging out of the system. They provide for young adults by helping them find a job, get set up in an apartment, giving them people to talk to who care and can give them good advice. By embracing a young woman, the risk of her being trafficked diminishes considerably.

Can you think of other ways individuals, churches, Sunday School classes, or Bible study groups might care for orphans right in our own communities or for those young children who live in neighboring countries and have lost their parents to AIDS or natural disasters such as those in Haiti? Finding answers to the orphan challenge could keep a child from becoming a modern-day slave.